Cynic - Focus (Re-Issue)
Roadrunner Records
Progressive Death Metal Fusion
14 songs (72:35)
Release year: 2004
Cynic, Roadrunner Records
Reviewed by Ken

The year was 1993, and I was in the infant stages of what was to become complete and utter music obsession. I was still holding on with dear life to 80's rock and bands like Slaughter and Def Leppard, and punk bands like Social Distortion and Black Flag. I was also pretty ignorant to the vastness of the music world, and too stubborn to truly open myself up to new musical styles and genres. It was then that I met someone who was an extreme metalhead, he introduced me to bands such as Sanctuary, Solitude Aeturnus, Heathen and Helstar, and he eventually introduced me to Cynic’s Focus album. I absolutely hated it! I just could not grasp the concept of this album actually being considered music. It was just a bit too heavy for me at the time, and the sweet yet vicious and vitriolic vocals just tore at my bleeding ears. I loved the power metal bands he showed me, like Sanctuary, and the doom metal bands, like Solitude Aeturnus, but Cynic was just too big of a chasm for me to cross at that point in time.

Years later, as I was reluctantly nearing semi-maturity, and my obsession with music continued to grow—eventually manifesting into a nagging, money-hungry wife—I was listening to some really extreme bands, and one day I came across an article about this short-lived band named Cynic. Bah! I remember this band, they suck! I mumbled. But I did a little digging and found that their one and only album was considered to be one of the best death metal albums of all time, a highly regarded landmark release, considered a classic to a countless many. I hated one of the best metal albums of all time? I thought. Weird.

So curiosity got the best of me and I went out and found it at a used record shop, brought it home, cranked it and proceeded to declare this album one of the best death metal albums of all time! Focus blew me away, made my sweaty areas tingle with delight...because this time around I actually listened to it. And I simply blew it off a few years earlier, the same way I booed Queensrÿche off the stage when I saw them open for Def Leppard in 1989, only for them to become one of my all-time favorite bands after Empire came out a few years later. How pathetic.

Putting my self-loathing moment aside....

Many people refer to Cynic as death metal, which at the time this was originally released was generally correct, though a fairly big understatement at that. To me, death metal is played by bands like Cannibal Corpse and Morbid Angel, this is not what I hear when I listen to Cynic. By today’s standards, they are more in the melodic death metal vein, yet at the same time they are completely different. They combined extreme technical playing with traditional metal, death metal, thrash, jazz, fusion, and classical (to name a few). Paul Masvidal's death metal growls intertwine flawlessly—albeit in a very acidic manner—with his signature haunting flanged vocals, and angelic clean vocals. Not many other metal bands have ever combined such contrasting styles and extreme technical wizardry, and pulled it off as flawlessly as Cynic did. They were in a class of their own in 1993, and thirteen years later they still exist there…alone.

This new re-issue comes remastered and includes six bonus tracks, new artwork and pictures, and liner notes by Ula Gehret (Metal Maniacs editor, ex-Century Media rep) and a message from Paul Masvidal. The remastered tracks aren't any different than on the original release, they've just been brought up to current audio standards. The six bonus tracks are a different story, they consist of three remixes of "Veil Of Maya," "I'm But A Wave To..." and "How Could I," and three tracks pulled from the 1994 demo released by the post-Cynic project, Portal. As much as I love this re-issue I have to question the logic behind remixing only three songs. These three songs are far superior to the original three. Why not remix and remaster all original eight songs? Why stop at three? Don't get me wrong, the original tracks sounded great in 1993, the mix was excellent for the time, but ten years have passed and the technological advancements with which they could have used to remix the five remaining tracks should have been utilized to a greater degree because there is a glaring, almost torturous difference between the three tracks they did remix and the original eight. Honestly, I think they should have remixed all or none, as the remixed tracks just leave you wanting more.

The three Portal tracks are excellent songs and I wish I had a copy of that demo. They are very different from the Cynic material. Gone is the death metal, gone is the “heavy,” it is replaced by a prog-rock, experimental noisescape with clean male and female vocals. Portal is somewhat similar to Paul Masvidal's and Sean Reinert’s current—and excellent—Æon Spoke project, having more in common with Pink Floyd, Dredg and Radiohead than anything metal. So I'm a bit confused as to why these are even on this CD. It's obviously done for the fans, but the difference between Portal and Cynic is quite significant. Cynic released four demos prior releasing Focus, most fans would probably have preferred a few pre-Focus demos over these three tracks; as would they have probably liked the long sought-after cover of Metallica’s “Damage Inc.,” I’m sure (of course, getting past the Wall of Lars would likely have proved impossible). Luckily, at least, the Portal tracks are very good. I think a re-issue of the whole Portal demo would have made more sense, but I’ll quit beating the dead, rotten horse and walk away with what I can get.

Regardless of my personal gripes about the bonus tracks, the “focus” here should be on the original eight tracks. So I'll sum it up in one sentence: Cynic was a band that was at least ten years ahead of its time, a band that defied limitation, transcendental in creativity, an enchanting enigma to this day, and on the back of this CD there is a blurb where it reads: "'Focus' is an absolute classic!"

'Nuff said.

AUDIO: Celestial Voyage, Textures and Sentiment (sample clips from http://www.seanmalone.net used to showcase his playing, not the band or this CD)

REAL VIDEO: Veil Of Maya (bootleg quality, 1994)

Note: In time these links will likely becoming outdated.

Killing Songs :
Veil Of Maya, How Could I, Celestial Voyage, I'm But A Wave To... and The Eagle Nature
Ken quoted CLASSIC
Ken quoted 95/100
Dee quoted 87/100
Other albums by Cynic that we have reviewed:
Cynic - Kindly Bent To Free Us reviewed by Neill and quoted 80 / 100
Cynic - The Portal Tapes reviewed by Charles and quoted no quote
Cynic - Carbon-Based Anatomy reviewed by Alex and quoted 80 / 100
Cynic - Re-Traced reviewed by Charles and quoted no quote
Cynic - Traced In Air reviewed by Goat and quoted 89 / 100
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